03I never like to judge a film by its performance at the box office, but I think in the case of American Ultra its much-discussed poor return is somewhat unsurprising, and if you’re feeling uncharitable you may even say it’s deserved. This is the kind of film that I’d hoped to enjoy, starring a few actors I think highly of (Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, John Leguizamo), but I’m afraid for an action comedy there simply aren’t enough laughs in Max Landis’ screenplay to warrant any praise.

The film’s concept feels second rate, as if Landis and director Nima Nourizadeh (Project X) have thrown the first three Jason Bourne films into a pot, seasoned with a (very small) pinch of Judd Apatow or Kevin Smith, and have subsequently presented us with a particularly weak stock: essence du Damon avec un peu de Rogen, if you’ll allow a weak metaphor to stumble on even further. Eisenberg’s Mike Howell is a convenience clerk stoner who wouldn’t be memorable in the slightest except for the fact that – somewhat implausibly – he’s unaware that he’s also a CIA sleeper agent and trained assassin. His relationship with long-term girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart) is sweetly-portrayed but their small town bliss is ruptured when two warring CIA bigwigs (Connie Britton and Topher Grace) go head-to-head over the couple’s welfare; Britton’s character wants to protect her pet project while Grace’s wants to shut it down with brute force. Carnage ensues as hitmen are sent after the half-baked lovers.

The easy chemistry Eisenberg and Stewart shared in Greg Mottola’s excellent (and still underrated) Adventureland is present and correct again here, but both writer and director have failed to test the pair’s comic chops and there’s a lack of imagination at play as CIA goons are dispatched, which means further missed opportunities to provide the audience with a few much-needed chuckles. John Leguizamo tries hard to inject some life into proceedings as a friendly dealer, hampered by the fact he only gets a couple of minutes of screen time, while Bill Pullman is similarly wasted and has an air of ‘just pay me already’ when he shows up for the film’s finale. It’s hard to feel any kind of connection with the characters or the town they live in, and I’m sorry to report that the trailer contains all of American Ultra‘s best moments. My advice is to watch that in order to save yourself a wasted hour and a half and the price of a ticket.

Directed by: Nima Nourizadeh.
Written by: Max Landis.
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Connie Britton, Topher Grace, Walton Goggins, Bill Pullman, John Leguizamo.
Cinematography: Michael Bonvillain.
Editing: Bill Pankow, Andrew Marcus.
Music: Marcelo Zarvos.
Certificate: 15.
Running Time: 96 minutes.
Year: 2015.

13 Responses to “0353 | American Ultra”

  1. Three Rows Back

    Yep, this tallies with what I’ve hard so far. It seems like a backwards step for both leads to be honest; I must admit I’m scratching my head as to what they were thinking.

    • Stu

      Yeah I’m surprised both of them took this on given their recent work. Maybe they wanted to work together again and the project suited that. Weird choice.

  2. Tom

    Nice touch, Stu. This was a case of complete avoidance by me because of the director involved. Nourizadeh was responsible for one of the worst movies I have ever seen ever, ‘Project X,’ and of course, me being somewhat of an extremist, I vowed to never see another of his movies again after that.

    But you bring up a point here. I totally had forgotten how good Eisenberg and Stewart were together in Adventureland. I’m sure some of that chemistry wore off in their roles here but I don’t know if it’s enough to get me to see this still. By the sounds of it, this is far and away better than Project X but still not a very worthy one to check out.

    • Stu

      Haha I sometimes get liked that with actors or directors. If something is particularly bad I’m very hesitant about seeing more by them; I guess it’s a good job the first two Ridley Scott films I saw were Alien and Blade Runner rather than Robin Hood!
      I haven’t seen Project X but this really was poor. I feel sorry for the two leads; I’d happily have watched a straight-up romantic comedy featuring their two characters, but never mind!

      • Tom

        Oh man, I was just talking to my mom earlier and said that Robin Hood was a Ron Howard production. Whoops! (Either way, I haven’t seen it.)

        And yeah, no need to get curious about Project X. It probably makes American Ultra look like an Oscar contender. hah

  3. Todd Benefiel

    You lost me at ‘two warring CIA bigwigs (Connie Britton and Topher Grace)’…though I’m guessing you weren’t trying to impress me with that bit of (mis)casting information, so maybe you didn’t so much as ‘lose me’ as ‘steer me in the right direction’! And since everyone seems to love ‘Adventureland’, and I don’t, I better stay well clear of this one.

    • Stu

      Hang on though…if everyone loves Adventureland and you don’t…and everyone hates American Ultra…then maybe you ought to give it a whirl? Although I hasten to add I’ve seen 60 new movies this year and the only one I consider to be worse is Fantastic Four. Even 50 Shades Of Grey is better than this dross.


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